Hungary’s buzzing capital, panoramically divided by the Danube into Buda and Pest, boasts a kaleidoscope of soothing Turkish baths and thermal springs, historic architecture, state-of-the-art museums, a broad range of old-world coffeehouses. Budapest is a city where you can enjoy all Ex-stages. Compared to European standards, prices are still relatively cheap here, adding to the appeal.
In the sensitive state of EXile, when you’re looking for peace and harmony, opt for the Garden of Philosophy on the Gellert Hill, an inspiring and spiritual eight-statue-creation portraying Gandhi, Saint Francis, Abraham, Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tse, Echnaton, and Daruma Taishi. Brainchild of Hungarian artist, Nandor Wagner, the cultural-crossroad complex provides a serene spot for relaxation and an awe-inspiring panorama to the city. For an even better view, take a short hike to the hilltop fortress, the famous Citadel and its Liberty Statue.
Still on the Buda side of the city, head to the Castle Hill to EXplore the Labyrinth of Buda Castle (www.labirintus.com), a 1200-meter-long network of manmade passageways deep beneath the Castle. Created in the 16th century by the Turkish military, the mostly unmapped tunnel-complex stretches out across 60 kilometers, used as wartime hospitals and bomb shelters over the course of history. Today, the converted labyrinth section is sealed off for visitors, presenting an eerie maze of caves, statues, and an ever-circulating fountain of red wine. If you’re claustrophobic, stay above ground and explore the Royal Palace and the Fisherman’s Bastion.
EXorcise all kinds of negative feelings in Central Coffeehouse (www.centralkavehaz.hu), the coffee-and-culture institution in the heart of the city. The visually and intellectually stimulating atmosphere is coupled by seductive sweets and the power-boosting blends of coffee. Another splendid refuge is the Art Nouveau-style New York Coffee House(http://www.boscolohotels.com/page.cfm?SectionId=7116), historic café that lures art-aficionados and caffeine-craving sightseers housed in the newly renovated turn-of-the-century Boscolo Hotel near Blaha Lujza Square.
A pivotal point to EXpress your love for art is the Palace of Art (www.muveszetekpalotaja.hu), a world-class venue in the Millennium Center, where you can listen to a classical concert performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra, see an exhilarating spectacle by the National Dance Theatre or browse the contemporary artworks in the Ludwig Museum – all under one roof. But, if you’re in the shop-til-you-drop EXpression phase, you also have many options to choose from. Visit Váci street and its side streets that offers high-end designer boutiques frequented by tourists, or pop into Westend City Center (www.westend.hu) and Mammut I-II (www.mammut.hu) shopping centers where you’ll find everything from wallet-friendly bargains, beauty salons and fitness centers to bookstores and movie theatres. If you have some cash (and luggage space) to spare, go to Ecseri Flee market (Nagyk?rösi út 156) in early hours of the weekend, to haggle for antiques, furniture, Communist relics – basically anything you can think of.
Forget the stress of everyday life and enjoy the freedom of being a solo traveler - and EXhale at Rudas Bath (Döbrentei square 9), the oldest thermal bath in Budapest featuring women-only spa experiences every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon and mixed days on Friday and Saturday. The previously all-male domain boasts therapeutic swimming facilities including a large thermal pool and four adjacent pools in various temperatures and several steamy saunas. Caveat: the dress code in the spa is birthday suit-style (or a small apron given at the entrance).
Anna J. Kutor is a roving freelance writer and photographer specializing in cultural, travel and social themes – currently residing in Warsaw. Check out her website at www.orangeimagery.com to view her photos from Budapest and around the globe.